Up upon a balcony high above the sleepy streets, a small orange filly looks up at the stars, at the shadowy formation upon the moon and wonders. She's not scared exactly, even though she knows what it represents. Who it represents. And, more importantly, that it would be gone before the next time the moon rose upon Equestria. It'll all be alright. Her mom had it all handled well in hoof.
She reaches a little orange-coated hoof up for a moment, wondering if maybe... maybe some small part of the Mare in the Moon is reaching back to her. She wants to know who she really is, to know her as a pony and not just as a myth or second hoof tale from her mother. Maybe if she could just give her a hug, if nothing else. Just some small token towards her. Maybe-
"Oh, look. I seem to have found a fallen angel. A pity, I was hoping for some fun. I guess I'll just have to get it by tickling her belly!" The sound of the young little filly's mother laughter fills the air as she pounces upon her daughter from above, the pink- and orange-coated pegasus deftly rubbing her hooves against the filly lying on her back. Little squeals of ticklish delight reward her efforts as the pegasus lying on the wood decking curls up to save her ticklish little underside from the fiendish attack.
"No! Eeik! Moo-oo-oom!" The words are hard for her to get out between peals of laughter, little hooves waving madly in midair from her efforts.
"Mo-Oo-Oom? What a strange name to be calling out. Oh, does my little filly mean 'mom'?" The orange mare redoubles her efforts, grinning madly as the little filly squeals with laughter even harder, laughing at their antics herself as she leans in for the kill. Her hooves swoop in under the little filly, scooping her high into the air as the mare lets herself drop onto her back, lowering the filly to lie atop her chest.
In the darkness of the summer night, the two lie there, enjoying their precious time together as mother and daughter. Sure, they didn't get nearly as much time together as they wanted, but they had their moments and nothing was going to take them away.
"Summer Sun Festival tomorrow, Mom..."
"I know. I'll be leaving in an hour or so. I need to be there, at Canterlot, when she is freed." The mare looks wistfully up at the black horsehead, and the stars now visibly drawing closer to the moon, wings sprawled widely against the cool wood.
"But I don't want you to go. She'll... she'll..."
"I know. But I have to. She needs the chance. I'll be back, my little filly. With the morning light and the rising sun.Everything's already set." The mare nuzzles her daughter between the ears, listening to the indignant giggle from her target. Everything is as close to plan as possible, with one wondrous deviation.
The little filly wriggles out of her mother's hooves at last, rolling to her own for a moment before she hugs her mother around the neck. "I know. But I don't want you to go. She'll banish you to the sun!"
"Oh, and what is that going to do to me, give me a sunburn?" The mare chuckled at her humor, running a hoof down her daughter's back soothingly. She pulls herself free of her daughter's grasp, rolling to her own hooves gingerly. It was time; the stars were moving quicker than she anticipated. "I think a little pony needs to go to bed if she wants to hit up the party in the morning before it's crashed. Can't have you running around silly. Just listen to Big Macintosh and Ms. Sparkle; they'll keep you safe when everything happens."
The filly nods as she walks with her mother back inside to her room. Small posters of the stars and moon, ones overlooking Canterlot as the Wonderbolts flew overhead decorated the walls, a small plushy of the princess protectively perched over her small and cozy bed. The filly jumps up onto her bed, circling about as she tries to calm down for the morning activities, at last slipping under her covers as her mother watches.
"Good night, Scootaloo."
"Would you tell me the story, one last time before you go, Mom?" The little filly's plea pauses the mare in her tracks for a moment. The little pegasus snuggled a little deeper into her covers as her mother turned around to give her a sad and tired look.
"The one everypony else hears, or the real version?"
The little filly answers without hesitation, knowing which version she wants to hear. "The truth, Mom."
The older mare walks back, leaning against her child's bed as she sat down, hoof gently tussling her filly's mane one last time. "Once upon a time in the magical land of Equestria, two wonderful princesses and their loyal court magician ruled the land with benevolent care. The elder managed the sun, giving time for all their little ponies to work and build their land into something wonderful; the younger was the mare of the moon and night skies, who managed the time of rest and dreams of a better day. For so long, the three of them guided the land in a glorious golden age never before seen, and only barely seen since. But, it was not to last."
The older mare blinks away a tear at what comes next, her voice choking in her throat for a moment. "For the younger cared about the court mage with all her heart, with all her soul, with all her mind. And he was mortal. As the years passed, so did his youth, and eventually his life began to come to a close. Desperate, the younger princess turned to the elder, looking for something, anything to save him. But he had anticipated her, and asked that nothing would be allowed to interfere in his natural passing of time."
The little filly winces, squeezing deeper under the covers at the painful look upon her mother's face. The older mare stumbles over her words, thinking of the painful events that came afterwords. "The younger was furious, terrified and inconsolable as she watched him pass from the realm of the living. She blamed the elder for his passing, and withdrew from contact with her. The mare of the night grew cold and distant, throwing herself into her work and shunning so many who wished to know her."
The old mare blinks back painful tears, knowing she has to hurry before her appointed time comes. Her voice breaks and cracks with the long-smoldering memories, of the pain and suffering that still echoed through time. "One day, after many years, she came to the elder mare, her heart darkened by a cold loneliness. With nopony actively working under her night, and without her favored friend keeping her company, she had become bitter and confused. She demanded that their faithful subjects be forced to work under her blessed night, by reducing or eliminating the day. When she was told of the horrible effects such an action would have, she grew enraged and out of control. The elder did everything she could, not realizing how deeply the younger had been corrupted, desperately protecting her people as the two of them fought. She did everything she could to snap the younger out of the corrupting darkness that had swallowed her up, until..."
Scootaloo picks up where her mother left off, reaching over and hugging her around the neck comfortingly. She speaks quietly, knowing she shouldn't have asked, but knowing the story needed its conclusion. "But you couldn't, and eventually had no choice but to turn the Elements of Harmony against her, banishing her to her beloved moon for a thousand years in the hopes that a group of ponies with a strong enough friendship would emerge, able to wield the Elements to restore her to her former self and to bring Luna back to you. You'll get her back, Mom. They'll do it."
"I know they'll stop her, my little filly. I don't know if I'll get her back, though. You deserve a better pony than me as your mother." The elder mare sniffles for a moment, looking up to see the stars drawing rapidly closer to the moon.
"No, I don't. You're the best mom I could have gotten. Sure, you made mistakes, but... you did the best you could. And I'm getting all mamby-pamby sentimental, aren't I?"
The elder mare chokes back a giggle, before deciding to screw it all, gently laughing with her wonderful voice, hugging her daughter one last time. "Oh, never change, my silly little filly. I need to get going now; go to sleep, and don't worry."
"Never do, Mom. I'd probably... dunno, have a heart attack or something if I did. Or heartburn, Pinkie says you get heartburn from worrying too much."
The gentle laughter returns as the elder mare walks towards the balcony once more. "Oh, she's entirely right on that count. Good night, my little filly."
With a slight golden glow, the solid oak door is pulled shut, leaving Scootaloo's room bathed in the faint glow of her sunburst nightlight. The far more brilliant flash of golden light seeps that seeps through the edges of the doorframe comfort the little filly for a moment, her mother's light soothing for her as she tucks in under her covers and drifts off to a gentle sleep. It'll be morning soon enough, her mother will be back then safe and sound, and an ancient mistake at last corrected. Besides, it wasn't like her mom was going to walk in the door sunburnt and smoldering, after all?
The cold and frigid wind of the continuing night squeezed through whatever tiny drafts it could, tickling the feathers upon Scootaloo's form. All she could think about was if her mother was suffering on the sun, if the night was ever going to end. She'd pulled the covers up over her head, trying to blank out the thoughts of just how scary Nightmare Moon had been, of the contempt she had shown for the mortal ponies of the land. Unhinged was one thing; what she had demonstrated had been... her mind blanked out, unable to come up with a proper term for it. Unnatural was as good a word as any. With the night still going, all she wanted to do was just curl up and-
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
The little filly squeaked in surprise at the knocking on her balcony door, curling up even tighter under her covers at the heavy thuds of a hoof upon her sturdy door. Her shivering frame flinched at the sound of the latch within the door being manipulated and opened with a metallic click, afraid to look and find out. Everything was supposed to have been all right, supposed to have been fine... she was going to be there when the-
"Let it be known, for all time, that my brilliant plan to redeem Princess Luna was not as well thought out as I thought it was." Her mother's voice was music to Scootaloo's ears as the little filly burst from under her covers to glomp the elder mare with all her strength. For her part, her mother fell over onto her side wearily, drained from her disturbingly easy escape as her mane smoldered with the leftover heat of the sun slowly escaping her.
"Mom! But..." Scootaloo looked out the door as her mother gently kicked it shut with a weak buck, looking at the dark and clear skies beyond. Confusion reigned in her head, as she looked from the bare moon to her mother, who looked like she'd been through the nine rings of Tartarus after breakfast. She'd said that she'd be back when the dawn came, so why was she here now?
"Luna's really gotten rusty after a millennium of being locked up. It was actually rather embarrassingly easy to escape the sun. Not that it didn't hurt." The elder mare groaned as she wiggled each leg painfully in turn, testing to see if she had forgotten anything other than part of her celestial power on her heavenly body. Gentle wisps of smoke rose from where the power of her domain had touched her uncontrollably and left her looking like an innocent bystander in Twilight's lab after twelve hours of study.
"I wouldn't know... pegasus and all that." Scootaloo leaned over the side of her bed, licking a hoof before jamming it firmly onto a smoldering patch about to catch fire once more. The smoking lock of mane found itself mashed between a head and a wet place, hissing as the drool coating the underside of the hoof put it out.
The elder mare was tempted to look cross-eyedly at the hoof, feeling the blessed coolness soaking through her fur. "I know, I know. They should almost be there by now; it won't be too long." The old mare wanted to just vegetate for a few weeks, relax and enjoy herself. How long had it been since she'd had a vacation, an actual proper 'don't even go to work'-style vacation? She couldn't even remember. A pity she was about to have to go back.
"Yeah, she is kinda scary-focused. It's like obsessing over a task is fun for her or something." Scootaloo flopped along the side of her bed, leaning over lazily and upside down to look her mother in the eyes. For her troubles, she found her nose being beeped by one of the creamy orange hooves of her mother, who lazily had rolled over onto her side.
"Yes, that would describe Twilight exactly. And it's why I chose her for this. What better mare for the task than somepony that would obsess over anything, even friendship. What could possibly go wrong?" The elder mare laughed lightly at the thought, even as a tingle of magic touched the edge of her senses. As she sat up, the rapidly descending moon could be seen on the horizon, lowering from the skies as its owner found herself on the wrong end of the Elements of Harmony.
"I'll see you in a bit, my little filly. I think I just got called back to work." And with that, the old mare dashed out the door, leaving little Scootaloo alone once more with an intriguing and worrying thought.
"Did Mom REALLY just ask what could possibly go wrong with friendship?"
"We must once more apologize for locking thee away in the sun. We were not at all thinking properly." Luna walked alongside Celestia down the majestic halls of the Canterlot castle, absently gazing out the windows at the sprawling metropolis Canterlot had become. Other than the castle, she hadn't recognized anything at all.
Celestia's laugh surprised the younger alicorn, the elder mare letting out her mirth in the relative privacy of the royal suite complex. "Oh, Luna. You have nothing at all to apologize for. I was already out long before you were freed from the nightmare that haunted you. And I could not accept an apology of that kind when I've made similarly rash decisions of my own of late."
The night diarch raised an eyebrow in thought, stepping forward once more to continue the journey to her quarters. "Pray, tell. What manner of rash decision would make thee think our own treachery be but a footnote in comparison?"
Celestia shook her head and smiled enigmatically, raising a hoof to rest against the ornate double doors entering into Luna's quarters. "In private. It's rather sensitive and not for the court to know." Celestia reached forth with her power, unlatching the door quickly and sweeping the younger diarch inside with her, shutting the door as fast as it had opened.
"Is this a cruel joke upon thy part?"
"What do you- oh. Oh for-" Celestia massaged her muzzle with a weary hoof, realizing she had forgotten something terribly important as she looked upon Scootaloo's 'improvements' upon the room. She'd forgotten to have the little filly return it to its original state after nearly 1000 years of disuse. She completely understood exactly why Luna so indignantly had begun to grumble, wondering just how foalish she had to look herself. "Well, this is technically part of what I had to tell you. My apologies, she was supposed to clean up last week."
Luna gave her a scathing look as she touched the woolen comforter on 'her' bed, idly tracing the outline of the strange yellow arrowhead with her hoof. "She?"
The elder diarch slowly trotted over to the younger, looking about conspiratorially for several moments before she leaned into Luna's ear and whispered several true things. Each drew the younger princess's eyes wider and wider in shock from the revelation that Celestia would, well...
Especially in that place! DRUNK, NO LESS!
"SURELY, THOU JESTETH WITH US!?!"
Celestia smiled, sitting down to remain stable for the laugh building in her. "Oh yes, I'm afraid so, Luna. I would dare say that beats your locking me in the sun on the scale of bad ideas fairly easily." The tears of barely suppressed laughter welled up in the corners of her eyes as she ignored the paling Luna, the strange cosmic irony still catching her by surprise.
"Didst thou think this would be AMUSING to us? Thou treatest her almost as a surrogate for our own affections! If anything, thine actions are worse than an intentional slight!" Luna fluffed out, spreading her wings wide instinctively at even the suggestion that she might have been replaced in Celestia's eyes by some mere whelp of not even a decade.
"What? No! She could never replace you! I couldn't just cast her aside, not if I was going to give you a second chance. And then, some bright spark flared in her soul, the same fire that drove you in your youth. It's some cruel cosmic joke against me, that somepony who is destined to live and die a short life reminds me so much of who you could have been, that she cares so much about your work, about you..." Celestia found herself horrified as she realized what her words had implied, reaching out to hug the younger diarch and calm her down. Instead, she had to watch as the dark alicorn retreated back, ruffling the thick rug on the floor with her movement.
Crestfallen, she drew back as she realized she'd hurt Luna once more, shuffling backwards towards the door. "Luna, I would like you to meet her. Ever since I told her of her heritage, of your tale, she's wanted to know you, to comfort you. I don't know why, but she's always loved the stars you hung in the night so long ago. Give her a chance, Luna."
Luna turned her head, pacing to the desk, still littered with bits and pieces from the last time Scootaloo had come over. A photo of the little orange filly and what was obviously Celestia dressed and disguised as a pegasus mare, and another one of the little one and the moon, the faint image of Luna's prison still visible in the photo. With a painful sigh, she turned that one down. She could see why Celestia had latched onto the filly; even if she found the answers painful, all around were signs of the energy of youth, innocence and strength of will together in spades.
"Alright. We shall give her a chance when the time comes. If she is what you claim, then we shall be satisfied."
"That's all I ever ask. I will be down in Ponyville for a bit, Luna. If you need me, you can find me there as... 'Sunbeam'. Though you really should rest." Celestia began to cast the spells of her other life as she spoke, the change rippling over her like gentle waves in a pond or the heat over a road. White gave way to orange, the gentle fading colors of a sunset burning to a bright and firey pink as the solar diarch assumed her other identity once more.
Luna began to protest, wanting to say something. Instead, as she opened her mouth the thunderous tones of a Royal Canterlot enhanced yawn emerged to rattle the castle, the exhausted lunar diarch at last drooping over, dropping where she stood to fall upon her old bed. As her legs instinctively kicked and tangled the sheets around her, Celestia smiled, stepping out with a bright golden teleport, for home. After all, there was still a chance for everypony to be happy, and a family again.
Luna blearily blinked, half asleep from the exhaustion of so heavily working herself after having escaped a thousand years of her energy being drained into her beloved moon.
Thop! Thop! Thop! Thop!
All she could mentally ask herself was 'What in Tirek's black bones is making that infernal racket?' Her legs feebly twitched in the tangle of covers and comforters she had assembled to envelop her form, unable to move much. She reached with what little magic hadn't deserted her, yanking another layer over her head to drown out the-
The lunar diarch poked her head back out, looking to smite whatever foal was creating the noises that stole her blessed sleep from her. To her unease, nothing, not even a floating pegasus could be seen. The aggravatingly cheerful decorations looked back at her, as if mocking her bleary and confused mind. Where was the intr-
Confound that pony! Luna groaned and rubbed her scalp delicately, the noise driving her slowly towards finding a good chunk of moon to throw at the whole room. She wished nothing more than to scream in frustration at the irritation, miserably digging deeper into her tangled mess until a misshapen lump in the covers was the only sign she still existed.
Luna began to scream in frustration, until the bed shook with a loud, creaking THUMP! as something fell from the ceiling, the pitter-patter beat of small hooves shaking her as her attacker rushed her hideaway. The lunar diarch began to call up any magics she still could wield in her weakened state, prepared for-
The hooves digging into the blankets were to be expected. The feeling of them glomping tight around her, hard enough that she feared the hug around her neck was about to turn into a chokehold, was not as small tears dripped into her fur from a nuzzling face. The flickering glow of her magic fizzled out altogether, as she looked as best she could down at her young 'attacker' who was, to her surprise Celestia's mortal foal.
The little orange filly trembled against her for a moment before looking up into the lunar diarch's eyes. "Luna, you are still LOVED. Don't you forget that." The little filly clung tighter to the blue form of the mare of the night, sniffling slightly. "Don't you ever forget that."
Luna was at a loss for words. She hadn't expected, well... the little filly to seek her out so quickly. Let alone seek her out currying her favor with such a strange message. It was almost as if she was genuinely sincere. "Thy mother would be pleased, little one. But this will not change our opinion. We are not about to suddenly like thee simply because thy mother sent thee to plead thy own case."
"Mom didn't send me, Luna. Well, she told me about how you felt. I can't replace you for her. That was never was she meant."
"Really?" Luna slowly untangled herself from her bedding, wondering how much force it would take to remove the filly from her royal personage.
"Really really. You know how cool your sky is? VERY COOL! I've loved looking up at it! Mom's only been able to kinda-sorta duplicate what you did with it ever since you, uh, had your incident. I've been wanting to meet you for so long!" To Luna's relief, Scootaloo bounded off of her to bounce in place excitedly. She was bursting with energy with every bound, giving the lunar diarch a frightful headache from keeping track of her.
"So, thou doth not desire anything more from our royal personage?" Luna narrowed her eyes as she finally freed a forehoof, almost free of her messy bed-spread.
"Other than to be a friend? Why would I? You're my family! You're family that's been hurting for so long that almost everypony's forgotten why you were hurting." Scootaloo stopped her manic movements for a moment, looking to see if she could get away with hugging Luna again.
"And what wouldst thou know of our pain?"
"Mom told me. I... think I'm the last one alive other than you and Mom that knows the real story instead of the one she spread to clear your image." Scootaloo drew closer to Luna, the lunar diarch creeping backwards upon the bed for a moment. The little orange and purple filly almost glowed in the dim light of Luna's quarters, wings abuzz from her feelings good and bad.
Luna scowled as she at last freed herself, standing up atop the mess she had made of the bed to look down upon the young daughter of Celestia. "Then thou realizes that we fell for want of a mortal. Thou seekest to replace HIM! And that we cannot ab-gak!" Luna's proclamation was cut off mid-sentence as she found herself tightly hugged once more, the mass of Scootaloo nearly knocking her over.
"No, I don't. I want to be ME! Not anypony else. I know about him; I know what his death did. And I want to be with my family; I want to be with my mom, with the part of our family that got cut out! I don't want to be alone." Scootaloo's return argument slowly broke down into sniffles as she went along, tears streaking Luna's leg once more as the lunar diarch realized the little filly was being entirely serious.
She knew the pain of loneliness. Of despair and heartbreak, sitting alone in a quiet room with a piece of her heart cut out. It was a risk, to open back up again to some pony she barely knew as anything other than Celestia's foal. But she couldn't deny somepony whose cry so closely echoed her own. Family, somepony to trust and be with. To have somepony she could be herself with, no matter what mask the world wanted to paint her with, who just wanted to love her with no strings attached and no favors to wring.
Was that so hard to ask, even for a broken soul such as her own?
Luna gently lowered her head to rest against Scootaloo's, nuzzling her with every ounce of her heart and will she could muster as she spoke. "Then, thou wilt be loved, as thou so lovest ourself. Scootaloo Morningstar, daughter of Celestia Morningstar, we apologize for our arrogant presumption and for our slights to thyself. If family is what thy heart desires, with nothing more, how can we say no?"
The little filly sniffled once more, looking up into Luna's eyes with hope. Hope that maybe she'd get to know Luna like she'd always wanted to, hope that the poor mare might finally get the peace of mind she wanted, to remember how much she had been loved all along. "Really?"
The young diarch reached down, gently wiping a tear from Scootaloo's eyes. "Yes." The slight pain from the filly tightening her hug to bone-crushing force was worth it. It was so hard, being alone. And the mare of the moon was sick and tired of being alone when she had her family right beside her.
It was then that she looked up. "Are those... suction cups upon our ceiling?"